Bismarck is once again back and ready for another state title, but it’s not just a program that retools and reloads every year, it’s an institution ready to take down any team in their way.
After a 4th place finish at the Bismarck Rotary Tournament last weekend, the Demons aren’t discouraged by the results considering the circumstances.
“To still come out with 4th place, we were happy with that,” says Co-Head Coach Mark Lardy. “There’s always areas that you want to see us perform a little better at. But the grand scheme, when you step back and look big picture. Big picture, I’m happy with us taking away 4th place. There’s nothing to hang our heads about with the squad we had.”
Bismarck had prided itself on being a program that has wrestlers ready to go at any moment’s notice.
“That’s the nice thing about this team,” says senior Brock Fettig. “Everyone wants to step on the mat. Everyone wants to get better. Everyone wants to win. Our coaches do a good job of not only preparing the varsity guys but the junior varsity guys as well. When someone’s out, I feel like we have guys that can come in and step up and make a big impact on our team.”
But it’s the mainstays that have once again made Bismarck a contender, led by senior Brock Fettig, who turned around his career with a season-ending loss to close out his sophomore season.
“I think maybe, it just got to him,” says Lardy. “He had some tough losses in those years. Where I think it hit him and he knew he had to start outworking everybody.”
Fettig trained every day from then on and is now primed to become a back-to-back champ in his weight class.
“I used to be kind of slow on my feet and stuff like that. But I’ve gotten a lot better at getting into ties and stuff like that. My bottom and top wrestling have improved a ton just working on that stuff. Little things that ended up leading to big things.”
Fettig defeated his fellow Demon, Ben Nagel, last year in the 170 weight class championship, and while a bittersweet moment. Nagel says it hasn’t taken away from his bond with his teammate.
“He’s a really hard worker,” says Nagel. “So it gets me to work hard. I think he makes me better on my feet because he takes a lot of shots in practice. Obviously, throughout this season, he’s been trying to get that takedown record and so he’s been getting a lot of takedowns and stuff so, at practice, he takes a lot of shots so I think it helps a lot with working on my feet.”
Nagel has moved up to 195, a weight class he knows he’s undersized in, but believes his speed can be the game-changer.
“It allows me to take shots a lot faster,” says Nagel. “It helps me cut the corners because the guys are so heavy you can’t really take a straight-on shot because they’ll really sprawl out on you and put a lot of their weight on you. But it allows me to cut the corners and finish my shots more, which is nice.”
Another state title defender is Kaden Renner, a wrestler coaches see as a leader on and off the mat.
“He’s a kid that’s always looking to pick up teammates,” says Lardy. “Carrying them along. Work with any of the kids, similar to Brock where he’s going to work with any of the kids. Whether it’s the youngest kid or a teammate that is a senior that he wants to see improvements as well.”
“I would say defensively on my feet,” says Renner. “I just need to get a little bit better there. I think I’ve improved a lot on my feet over the summer, wrestling freestyle because it’s not a lot of bottoms, bottom, and top.”
The spotlight has also been on sophomore LJ Araujo, a two-time state champ already with high goals of wrestling at the next level.
“It used to surprise me with LJ, but now it’s just sitting back and kind of just admire it,” says Lardy. “Some of it is the just God-given talent that he has. The way that he moves. So fluid and even in positions where you think he’s a little bit flustered and most wrestlers that get flustered do not know how to react. He seems to know how to react the right way 99 percent of the time.”
“The focus since I was in 8th grade was to be a five-timer after I won it,” says Araujo. “That’s just my goal. I’m not content with just winning three and just not winning again. Not winning two and just being done. My goal is to win five state titles in a row.
As a team, Bismarck has a belief they can beat anyone all through a work ethic they feel is unmatched.
“Our coaches preach that a lot,” says Nagel. “Working hard is the big thing. Our coaches always say we’re the hardest workers in the state and that’s true.”
“We work harder than everybody else,” says Araujo. “We just do everything right I feel. Our coaches train us hard right now. We taper off at the end and I just feel like our coaches have us do everything right in order to have us ready for the season and to have us in shape.”
The WDA is less than a month away from the Regional Tournament. The next time Bismarck will wrestle will be Thursday when they host Dickinson.